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New Resource Empowers Public to Fight Counterfeit Drugs


While law enforcement operations continue to be the first line of defense in the anti-counterfeit war, consumer protection groups like the Partnership for Safe Medicines are arming the public with subtler, though equally potent, weapons.

In a press statement, Marv D. Shepherd, Ph.D., president of the Partnership for Safe Medicines and renowned expert on drug importation and drug counterfeiting, encapsulated the festering problem: "Each day, innocent people unknowingly risk death or serious injury to their health by taking counterfeit drugs," she said. "All across the world, we are seeing more occurrences of counterfeits involving more types of drugs in more countries. The makers of counterfeit drugs have enjoyed and profited from loopholes in our distribution system designed to deliver healthy medicines to those in need."

Yes, law enforcement continues to make great strides in stopping the counterfeiters.

  • In Nigeria, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has in the last seven years carried out 123 seizures and destructions of counterfeit drugs valued at over N24.25 billion.
  • In Kenya recently, drugs valued at over Ksh. 5 million have been destroyed by the pharmacy and poisons board of Kenya in conjunction with GlaxoSmithkline at the Kenya medical research institute KEMRI.
  • In Europe, European Union customs agents seized more than 34 million illegal pills and tablets in the 27-country bloc's first coordinated campaign against illegal medicines.
  • In Belgium last October, Belgian customs officials confiscated 2 million counterfeit pills (produced in India and bound for the African nation of Togo via Brussels), one of the biggest such seizures ever made in Europe.
  • In Southeast Asia, for the second time in three years, the international police organization Interpol has disrupted the trade in counterfeit medicines seizing more than $6.65 million in fake HIV, TB, and malaria drugs during the five-month Operation Storm, which encompassed Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Taking place from April 15 to Sept. 15, the operation involved about 200 raids, 27 arrests, and more than 16 million bogus pills (including fake antibiotics for pneumonia and pediatric drugs) seized.

Indeed, according to an article by Jennifer L. Shenker for businessweek.com, The New York City-based Center for Medicines in the Public Interest predicts that global sales of fake medications will be worth an estimated $75 billion in 2010, an increase of more than 90% from 2005.

In the US, a consumer group is doing something about it. As incidents of unscrupulous producers cutting food and medical goods with foreign, even toxic, materials become increasingly apparent across the globe, the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a coalition of organizations and individuals, is leading the effort to protect consumers from counterfeit medicines.

Consumer Resources

The group recently unveiled a collection of online educational materials - available for free to consumers - to help fend off the dangers of contaminated or counterfeit drugs.  Consumer Resources is designed to help consumers ensure the safety of their prescription drugs and includes guides on safely purchasing medicines online and how to save money without compromising drug safety.

Available on the Partnership's Web site (www.SafeMedicines.org), Consumer Resources provides visitors with tips for identifying common warning signs of rogue online pharmacies, advice for recognizing when a drug is counterfeit, and counsel for making safe online drug purchases. The materials also provide practical information on how to save money on prescription drugs.

Principles for Drug Safety

Aiming to bolster the fight against counterfeit drugs, encourage policymakers to enact stronger safety measures, and enable law enforcement to deal with problems at their source (i.e., the pharmaceutical supply chain and online drug sellers), the Partnership also developed the Principles for Drug Safety, a set of guiding principles for building a national strategy to strengthen the U.S. distribution system and curtail the criminal counterfeit drug trade.

Lobbying the government

Additionally, the Partnership has aligned with other industry groups to lobby the government. According to the group's statement, for example, Thomas T. Kubic, president and C.E.O. of the Pharmaceutical Security Institute and Partnership board member, urged Congress and the incoming Obama Administration to further address the vulnerabilities threatening the safety of America's prescription drugs, especially in the area of Internet pharmacies. Studies show that nearly two-thirds of these sites offered foreign, non-FDA-approved drugs that are illegal to sell in the United States.

With approximately 10 percent of the world's drugs determined counterfeit, according to the World Health Organization, it is clear that enforcement, effective as it is, can't do the job alone. And the important role of consumer education in the fight against illegal drugs can no longer be underestimated or taken for granted.

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